Armed Police Added to All USC Schools
This past August, the Upper St. Clair Board of School Directors approved measures to provide an armed school police officer in each of its six schools. The school police force increased from three in the 2017–18 school year to six full-time police officers, as well as a 12-month and a ten-month school security officer for the 2018–19 school year.
“The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority,” said board president Amy Billerbeck. “Those words are not merely a slogan; we live by them. Safety and security is one of the five pillars of our strategic plan, and we have worked diligently across multiple fronts to create the safest possible environment. Many of us have children who attend Upper St. Clair schools. We live here, too. This is our community, and we all have a vested interest in keeping it secure.”
During the transition period for hiring and training officers, the District utilized the services of the Allegheny County Police Department to provide an armed police presence on the first day of school.
The District’s school police officers are all Act 120 certified. Act 120 is known as the Municipal Police Officers’ training academy, a program that gives trainees the skills they need to become successful police officers. The program includes a 919- hour curriculum, plus an additional 27 hours of testing.
In May, the District welcomed a new chief of school police, Sean Bryson, who was a 20-year member of the Arlington County Police Department in Virginia and a USCHS graduate. Upon his arrival, Chief Bryson was tasked with conducting a needs assessment of the District’s current safety and security practices, including staffing, training, and expertise. “Providing an armed, highly-trained school police force is widely considered best practices in school safety and security,” said Chief Bryson. “We are fortunate to be building a staff with significant experience and specialized training in law enforcement.”
These new safety measures follow a continuum of enhancements that have been underway as part of the District’s five-year 2015–2020 strategic plan. “Our District has committed significant resources to help ensure that we are following best practices in the area of school safety,” said Dr. John Rozzo, superintendent of schools. “It is the most important of the five focus areas of our District’s strategic plan.”
In addition to bolstering the District’s school police force, this past spring the school board approved funding to increase student support services, including a secondary school counselor and a school psychologist. “This increase in staffing is designed to better support students’ social and emotional well-being, as well as to enhance student relationships and connectivity to school,” said Amy Pfender, the District’s director of student support services.
The District’s elementary and middle schools embrace the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which is designed to improve peer relations and increase connections among students, staff members, and one another.
Middle school students, grades five through eight, participate in a designated guidance class as part of their regular class schedule. School counselors provide information and instruction on a variety of developmentally-appropriate topics, including online safety, social media, study skills, appropriate online behavior, conflict resolution, responsible decision-making, and drug and alcohol prevention.
The high school has taken a proactive approach to creating a positive school climate. High school students have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of their classmates through their involvement in the Natural Helpers, Peer Mentor, Peer Tutoring, Partners in Physical Education, Partners in SHOP, SMART Desk, and Leadership Academy programs.
The District has a video security system that includes 280 cameras across its six campuses. The system is accessible by District administrators, principals, and school police, as well as the Township police and fire department. Beginning with the 2018–19 school year, all District buses were equipped with audio/video surveillance.
All six schools are now equipped with secure entrances, as well as a visitor management system that quickly screens visitors against the registered sex offender databases in all 50 states. In addition, as required by law, all school, classroom, and extracurricular staff and volunteers complete child abuse and criminal history clearances.
The District’s phone system has a 911 notification feature that pinpoints the call to the exact location in the building and alerts all District administrators, school police, and the building’s emergency team. In addition, enhancements have been made to the paging systems in the schools, which assist in communicating emergency announcements to staff and students. This upcoming school year, the District is researching improvements to various communication systems, which include two-way radios, cellular communications, and backup/diverse phone communication lines.
The USC PTC will host its semiannual Open Mic at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, December 5th in the Boyce Middle School theater. The event will focus on safety and security. John Rozzo, superintendent of schools, accompanied by a team of administrators, will be on hand to discuss many of the District’s safety initiatives, including introducing the District’s school police officers. Significant dialogue occurs among attendees and District representatives.